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Putting Prom Night in a New Light

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to the Future

February 16, 1999|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Like high school kids on prom night--eager, excited and boutonniered--they boogie-oogie-oogied on a shiny gym floor, posed for photos and capped the evening by voting for the king and king (yep, that's right) at the prom they never had.

More than 350 gay men and lesbians united in good old-fashioned varsity spirit to celebrate a rite of passage that passed most of them by as teenagers: prom night.

But Saturday night's fund-raiser for the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles' Eastern European concert tour in October also did double duty with a Valentine's theme.

In true 1950s cheesy "Grease" decor, hearts adorned walls, pink helium-filled balloons floated to the ceiling and more than 1,500 red anthurium plants in Art Deco gold-leafed vases transformed West Hollywood Park's auditorium and gymnasium, complete with bleachers, into cupid's disco.

Guests dined at cloth-covered tables on pasta primavera and salad--and for dessert, various heart-shaped, sugar-coated cookies, cupid candy and spicy cinnamon lips lollipops.

While most of the guys donned tuxedos, from tails to funked-out variations of the look, a few, natch, partied in dolled-up drag with requisite sequins and satin, along with big hair and "You go, girl!" size-12 pumps to match.

"Tonight is about rewriting our memories from high school," said Gary Mattison, a Gay Men's Chorus board member and chairman of the 20th annual event's committee.

"The chorus has always been a positive proponent of gay images. Most of us never went to our high school dances so we decided to have one tonight, to celebrate our community," said Mattison, a projects administrator for the Getty Conservatory group.

Celebrating in matching white tuxedo coats were Earl Marches, an aerospace aviation manager, and his date, Ken Nielsen, an Orange County court officer.

Though Marches and Nielsen attended their high school proms with female companions, they were jubilant at the chance to step back in time and relive their prom night with each other in their rented tuxes.

The night's prize for best-dressed couple went to Donald Ham and Peter Massey, who, respectively, came as the Captain and his, well, madam. Ham, a television director who has produced shows for the Gay Men's Chorus, turned heads in a pristine white military officer's uniform. Massey, the chorus' managing director, unofficially claimed the prom queen title as the divine "Doris" in an aqua satin ball gown with a sheer organza overlay and matching shoulder wrap. A wrist corsage in white orchids topped off the look.

But it was revenge of the nerds at midnight when the evening closed with the coronation of Tom Hunt Brooks and his date, David Backus, as a pair of kings on their thrones holding royal court--and hands--before their partying subjects. The two hammed it up for the crowd and accepted congratulations on their achievement, their white socks, their wisps of greasy curls.

"When I was in high school, I put a lot of walls around myself," Backus said. "I was gay even though I didn't come out, but still, I didn't go to the prom."

Nor did Brooks, who to this day regrets not asking the guy he really wanted to, "my dearest friend."

"As gay people we might tend to exclude ourselves from these wonderful giddy events," he said. "The point of this prom is to right all the wrongs, a chance to recapture something on our own ground."

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